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Shoaib Bashir takes four wickets as England seize control against India
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Shoaib Bashir takes four wickets as England seize control against India

Upon first glance on social media, Ben Stokes was drawn to Shoaib Bashir, whose shirt number, 67, coincidentally matches his impressive bowling average in first-class matches. This selection for the India tour certainly stands out as one of the most intriguing in recent history.

However, during a rainy second day in Ranchi, with a crucial Test match and series at stake, Yashasvi Jaiswal continued to prove to be a challenging opponent while Bashir was the topic of conversation on social media. Supported by two late wickets from another inexperienced player, Tom Hartley, the off-spinner’s impressive figures of four for 84 led to a sense of hope and confidence among the English team.

England has not been in a situation where they have to settle a series at a 2-2 tie since their 1995 match against West Indies in their home country. However, this possibility now seems to be on the horizon as India reached a score of 219 for seven in response to their previous score of 353 all out, on a pitch that was already showing signs of decline. If England wins here, the tour will take a different turn, leading to a fifth Test match in Dharamsala.

There were still many unresolved issues, especially with unpredictable conditions on the field. Nevertheless, Stokes received a great reaction following the defeat in Rajkot. In the span of two and a half sessions on the second day, boosted by Joe Root’s final score of 122 not out and an entertaining 58 from Ollie Robinson, they made considerable strides forward.

At the core of this was a young adult aged 20 who, just twelve months ago, was seeking a regional contract and not even considering catching the attention of the national team. After his impressive first appearance in Visakhapatnam where he took four wickets, Bashir made a memorable comeback. He bowled an outstanding 31-over spell from the players’ pavilion end, earning praise from his captain who had initially overlooked him during last summer.

Shoaib Bashir in action during the second day.View image in fullscreen

Prior to lunch, the game began with enthusiasm as Jimmy Anderson successfully took a wicket from Rohit Sharma, securing his 697th Test wicket. However, with a solid performance from Jaiswal and a score of 84 for one, the possibility of a difficult game ahead seemed likely. Frustration arose as several edges were not caught, including one from Jaiswal at 40 which was deemed not out by third umpire Joel Wilson.

At this point, England’s team may have been disappointed as they gathered together to celebrate, only to see a close-up replay showing the ball may have touched the ground before being caught by Ben Foakes. Robinson, the bowler, was unable to secure a wicket on a day where he continuously challenged Jaiswal. However, his slower speed of around 70 mph did not make matters any easier.

However, during tea, Bashir was able to bowl throughout the entire session and bring the hosts’ score down to 131 for four. He quickly dismissed Shubman Gill for 38 runs with an lbw, then repeated his success with Rajat Patidar. Finally, he skillfully coaxed a bat-pad from Ravindra Jadeja after a couple of impressive sixes. Each wicket was met with a triumphant air punch, making Bashir’s dreams a reality.

There was no doubt about the most valuable player, as Jaiswal’s powerful hit landed him a score of 73 before being caught out after tea. This brought his total number of sixes in the series to 23, setting a record for any Indian player in a calendar year, and it’s only February.

The home team, who were leading 2-1 with two games remaining, were aided by an interesting playing field. The unpredictable bounce on the first morning became evident as the day went on. This has allowed England’s inexperienced spinners to participate in the match. If they manage to win, many will credit their initial selection for this trip.

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Looking at the choices available in a county match, where the least amount of spin overs are played compared to other professional matches, England took inspiration from Jim Malone in The Untouchables. They disregarded the easy targets and instead went straight to the source. They preferred taller spinners and Hartley, similar to Bashir, stood tall at 6ft 4in.

This characteristic resulted in the dismissal of the last two wickets on a mostly uneventful day. Sarfaraz Khan was caught by Root at slip for 14 runs, while Ravichandran Ashwin was given out leg before wicket by a low delivery. This was the third leg before wicket decision of the day that was confirmed by the umpire’s call, a aspect of the review system that Stokes had previously expressed a desire to eliminate after the match in Rajkot.

Yashasvi Jaiswal is bowled by Shoaib Bashir.

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Aside from Jaiswal’s recent impressive performance, this contradiction was likely the main reason for Indian fans’ joy prior to a spirited comeback from their wicketkeeper, Dhruv Jurel. Despite being at a score of 177 for seven, he and Kuldeep Yadav remained unbeaten as they put on a partnership of 42 before the end of the match. Jurel showed great determination as Bashir and Hartley continued to challenge him.

However, despite the odd ball still bouncing low off the surface during this rally, and with India being the team due to bat last, they departed the ground with the knowledge that they had a difficult task ahead of them if they wanted to avoid a deciding match in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Source: theguardian.com